With South African Jaco Peyper next up to take charge of the tourists this Saturday in Rotorua when head coach Warren Gatland is due to send a near-Test strength side out against the Maori All Blacks a week before the series-opening All Blacks encounter in Auckland, the Lions have been put on notice that they are going to have to work harder to win over southern hemisphere referees at scrum-time.
Two late scrum penalties at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium cost the Lions dearly yesterday as they let a 22-13 lead slip in the final quarter, losing 23-22 to a Highlanders side and forward pack which got on the right side of Australian official Angus Gardner, much to the frustration of hooker Rory Best.
The Ireland captain also knows only too well the price of getting on the wrong side of Peyper after a contentious Six Nations encounter with France in Paris in 2016 when the South African referee continually went against Best’s front row and Les Bleus eventually broke the deadlock in a tight game with a try off the set-piece.
Back then, it was an inexperienced tighthead Tadhg Furlong who bore the brunt and yesterday it was veteran Englishman Dan Cole, a second-half replacement for Kyle Sinckler, who conceded both late penalties at scrum time, the second of which saw Marty Banks nail the winning points. “It was very, very frustrating,” Best admitted afterwards. “We got penalised, rightly so, for the one that they kicked but there was another couple where their prop (Daniel Leinert-Brown) was on his knees and stuff and all you are really looking for is a bit of consistency and I am not sure we necessarily got it.
“But having said that there was probably more factors in our control in the scrum that we can do better at and that is what we have to look at. We have to probably be a little more adaptable than we were and yeah, it’s frustrating. It is an area of strength for us and I don’t think we are going to let one scrum penalty completely derail us but it is something we have to take a look at.”
Best added: “I think we could be a bit smarter in playing the ref. Obviously, paint a better picture at the scrum and don’t get penalised. We have to play the ref and the conditions and take the sting out of their momentum because when they got momentum, that’s when they started to get a few more penalties.”
Like the Ulster hooker, Gatland took exception to the 62nd-minute penalty against Cole in the Highlanders’ 22, but the Lions boss was equally as frustrated by his side’s lack of discipline, which saw eight penalties conceded in the second half as their total penalty count returned to double figures from a tour low of seven in victory over the Crusaders last Saturday.
“It has (cost us),” Gatland said. “I thought in the first half there were one or two scrums where we put them under pressure.
“I disagree with the first scrum penalty in their 22. But yes overall they did get on top of us and we need to make sure we go and work hard over the next couple of weeks to make sure we rectify it if there’s an issue at scrum time.
“It’s about staying alive for every moment. If you do switch off they take advantage.
“We’ve just been caught on one or two occasions, and I think the players will learn from those occasions.
“I look to those two penalties against Dan Cole, and I think the first one’s a penalty to us, the loosehead has gone down. They’ve seen a different picture.
“There’s no doubt they’ve got some ascendancy in the second scrum penalty and I accept that, but I thought the first one, we’d forced an error.
“But look, you’ve just got to take those on the chin.
“We’ve gone from single figure penalties to double-figure penalties again. That’s eight or nine penalties in that last 10 or 12 minutes and that really hurt us.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re better in those moments because sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing games. We’ve got to make sure we adapt during the game with the way teams are scrummaging against us.”